I catch two of my students texting during class. We’ll call them Tiffany and Beth. I confiscate the phone and look at the text: It says simply “FISH” Turning the phone to the class, I ask, “What does Beth’s text MEAN?” The class clown in the back speaks up, “I got it. It’s an acronym. It means, ‘Fred Is So Hot!’” The class hoots. Beth turns red.
A more serious student in the front seat on my left raises her hand. “Mr. Nelson, I believe I know what that means. The symbol of a FISH, which you often see on bumper stickers (she traces it in the air with her finger) was used by early Christians in the Roman Empire to identify each other. It comes from the Greek word, ixthus, which was a REAL acronym (she glares back at the class clown.) Ixthus are the five Greek letters that start the words, “Jesus Christ God Son Savior” I believe what Beth was texting Tiffany was a symbol of connection they have in Christ.” (BTW, I teach at a Christian school) Eyes roll and a wave of groans sweeps across the classroom.
A third student speaks up. “Wow, you guys are deep. Mr. Nelson, I think if you could look back at the previous texts, you’d discover Tiffany just texted Beth to ask her what she is having for a snack. Bet if we check her locker, we’d find gold FISH.”
Who knows what “FISH” on Beth’s screen MEANS? If 100 middle school kids thought about that for one full minute, don’t you think 99 of them would answer the same thing: “Beth does!” Smart kids! Only the one who wrote the text truly knows what it MEANS.
Who knows what a “text,” any text, in the Bible means? No rush. Take a minute and think about it. In our world, a LOT of people won’t get this one right no matter how long they think about it. In our world, more often than not, with the Bible, as well as other literature and works of art, the one reading the text or viewing the piece of art thinks he or she can determine what it MEANS. Ever stand in front of a painting and interpret what the painter meant to communicate by it? It is fun, but is it fair? I would definitely suggest you not give your interpretation out loud if the painter happens to be standing nearby. Ever been in a group studying the Bible and heard the teacher or a member of the class say, “What this passage means to me is….?” There it is – the one reading the text hijacking meaning from the one who wrote the text.
The one who wrote the text, not the one who reads it, knows what the text really MEANS. Thankfully, there are tools to help us get back to a reasonable conclusion of what the writers of the Bible MEANT, even though that text was written a long, long time ago. But you might say, “Then understanding what the Bible means is hard work!” It is. That’s why it’s called, Bible STUDY. But trying to figure out meaning by “what it means to me” is…just fishing.